I thought the horrendous massacre of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos would make them angry enough, but the Senate hearing on the atrocity the past two days convinced me more than ever: We are a damaged Republic; the Senate is under the President’s thumb.
Why didn’t any of our senators ask that important question a fiercely independent Senate would have asked Secretaries Mar Roxas, Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Leonardo Catapang and even former Police Chief Alan Purisima?:
What did the commander-in-chief, President Benigno S. Aquino, do when he was informed early morning of that Sunday of the impending massacre of the commandos? Did he do everything he could to save them?
It would not have been such an important question had Aquino not known what Oplan Exodus, the last of the 10 operations planned by the PNP to capture international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir aka Marwan, was.
But both Purisima and SAF Director Getulio Napeñas testified that Aquino had been privy to the operation from its very inception back in April last year. The two even reported that Aquino was last briefed Jan 9 at Bahay Pangarap, his residence in Malacañang. Why, even Aquino in his speech on Jan 28 implied he gave the operation the go-signal, though not the exact date it would be undertaken. That statement jibes with Napeñas’ testimony yesterday that he was given a “window,” Jan 23 to 26, to execute the plan.
Napeñas wouldn’t have broken the chain of command by not informing PNP Acting Director Leonardo Espina about the operation, if Purisima had not been given the impression – by bringing him to two meetings in Malacanang with Aquino – that the President himself was in charge.
On Jan 25, Aquino even went to Zamboanga City, ostensibly to inspect the bomb blast there a few days before, but obviously to be able to immediately congratulate the SAF commandos for their supposed victory, and even to view Marwan’s corpse.
As I wrote in my column Feb 5, with him the whole day in Zamboanga were Roxas, Gazmin, and Catapang. It is nearly impossible that these officials in charge of our national security did not inform Roxas in the early hours of that day about the Mamasapano developments. Aquino left Manila at 9 a.m., and I would think he was already briefed before he flew to Zamboanga City.
Two simple questions
The senators could have asked the two secretaries and Catapang two simple questions:
First, did you inform the commander-in-chief in the early morning when he was in Manila or in Zamboanga of the situation that the SAF commandos were trapped?
Second, did he do anything about it, such as issuing orders, calling people who could have helped, to stop the carnage?
But every minute of Aquino’s time in Zamboanga was accounted for by the Philippine Information Agency, and there was no report at all that he secluded himself with his secretaries and Catapang to formulate a rescue plan for the commandos.
But what could Aquino have done to save the SAF troopers? Two things I can immediately think of:
First, Aquino could himself have called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Murad Ibrahim and Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar to tell them to contact immediately their commanders to order their troops to allow the SAF to escape. If Aquino still doesn’t have a personal hotline with them in his own cell phone directory – after meeting with them in Tokyo in 2011 and in several events in Manila – then we’ve got a problem of having in our midst such an incompetent President who does not have a grip on the levers of power.
Second, he could have ordered Catapang: “As commander-in-chief, I am ordering you to mobilize all forces and assets, even these two attack helicopters assigned for my security here, to rescue the commandos, at all costs.” If only he gave that order to Catapang, I don’t think the AFP would make an excuse not to comply, as Catapang did in the Senate hearing, saying he was worried that the MILF might think he was launching an all-out attack against them.
I know our senators are intelligent enough to know that these are very logical, important questions to ask to get to the bottom of why the massacre happened. But Senators Grace Poe and Loren Legarda even badgered Napeñas on why he could have broken the chain of command when he didn’t inform the acting police chief about the operations.
Isn’t it obvious that Napeñas believed, as everyone does apparently, except the senators, that Purisima, suspended or not, was still Aquino’s trusted operative? Why would Aquino have Purisima present in the Jan 9 meeting when Napeñas last briefed the President about the plan to take out Marwan, if not to tell his police officials that his former close-in bodyguard was still in charge?
What’s Corona’s prosecutor doing there?
I found two things strange at the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano massacre.
First, SAF Director Napeñas had a lawyer with him, whom he consulted several times. When asked the intriguing question why he ordered his officer to deliver Marwan’s severed index finger to FBI agents in General Santos City right after the operation, the lawyer obviously advised him to ask for an executive session.
Napeñas was the only official or officer in the hearing with such a lawyer. Was he being accused of a crime already? Or was he afraid he would implicate himself?
Second, the lawyer was Vitaliano Aguirre, who was among the few private prosecutors in the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Although he’s known to be an expensive lawyer, his claim to fame was that he provoked Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago to blow her top when he capped both his ears when the feisty senator was speaking. Santiago was so angry that she asked the sergeant-at-arms to escort Aguirre out of the Senate hall.
But Aguirre seems to be brave enough to risk seeing Santiago in the Senate in the hearing the other day.
I don’t think Napeñas can afford Aguirre’s fees. Did Aquino’s friends ask him to provide legal advice to Napeñas during the hearing, for himself and so as not to implicate Aquino?